Saturday, December 9, 2017

New Year's Resolutions

As this is one of my last blog posts of 2017, it is fitting to talk about the new year and new year's resolutions. Do you guys have any new year's resolutions? I don't as of right now, but you never know. Have you guys had new year's resolutions in the past? Were you successful in achieving your goals? I have never really set a strict new year's resolution in the past, but of course, there are things I would like to improve every year. Now some interesting facts about new year's resolutions. On average around 45% of Americans make a new year's resolution each year, but only 38% of Americans claim to never have made a new year's resolution. It is also estimated that around 37% of the new year's resolutions made each year are about exercising more. Around 22% of resolutions fail after the first week, 40% after the first month, 50% after three months, and 60% in total after 6 months. So if you ever made a resolution and fail, you know that you're not the only one. Lastly, of those who completed their goal, 40% were successful on their first try. Around 17%, however, took over 6 tries to complete their goals.

Three Interesting Voltaire Facts

1. The origins of his pen name are unclear. Voltaire had a bad relationship with his father, who discouraged his aspirations and tried to force him into a legal career. Possibly to show his rejection of his father's vales, he dropped his family name and adopted the pen name "Voltaire" after finishing his first play in 1718.

2. Voltaire set up a successful watchmaking business in his old age. While living in Ferney, Switzerland, in the 1770s, Voltaire joined a group of Swiss horologists and started a watchmaking business.

3. Voltaire was a follow of Isaac Newton. He never actually met the English physicist, but he helped popularize his works. After reading "Principia Mathematica" by Newton, Voltaire knelt down before the book in awe allegedly. He also supposedly help spread the tale of Sir Isaac Newton and the apple.

Last Blog Post of 2017

As time's winged chariot brings us to the end of 2017 and mid-term exams, I think it is a good time to look back on the literary works that we have learned.

1. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
A very interesting novel, we discussed about motifs such as lightness vs weight, sexuality, surface vs. substance, politics, an animal's life, kitsch (individuality vs uniformity), independence vs uniformity, body/soul, seeing vs darkness, privacy, women, and fate vs chance. We learned about Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurrence and the German proverb einmal ist keinmal ("once doesn't count") in relation to the idea that we can't compare lives and decisions. I think we can connect this idea to Pangloss's teaching that "this is the best of all worlds." Since we don't live multiple times in different worlds, we can't possibly know what world is the best.

2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
In this work of magical realism, cyclical time coexists with linear time. We talked about fatalism (the fates of Macondo and the Buendias are pretty much predetermined), the role of women, foreign influence/intervention, incest, and futility.

3. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
The impulsive Oedipus, who is blindfolded of his fate, fulfills the prophecy from Delphi. We see tension between free will and fate, and fate proves stronger. We learned about Aristotle's definition of a tragic protagonist: highly renowned and prosperous, not preeminent in virtue or justice, downfall stems not from vice or depravity but from a tragic mistake or lapse in judgment (hamartia).

4. Medea by Euripides
We discussed whether Medea fits Aristotle's definition of a tragic protagonist and also had an intense debate on whether Medea was right to do what she did.

5. Inferno by Dante
I think it's really creative how Dante designed Hell. It's also funny how he uses his work as a platform to criticize people that he didn't like.

6. Hamlet by Shakespeare
In a play that starts with a question and ends with more questions, Hamlet delays his revenge and is set in many traps. Major themes were rotting and death as a great equalizer. The scene where Hamlet and Laertes argue about whose grief is greater is similar to many parts of Candide, in which many characters argue that they themselves are the most unfortunate beings on earth.

7. Candide by Voltaire
The discussions about moral evil and physical evil are interesting.

Overall, it has been an absorbing first semester because we can find connections between each literary piece and the others. It also has been insightful to learn about the background history in which the works were published.

Why do we always want more?

If Candide and other characters in the novella had followed the ways of Buddhism, they would not have experienced so many tragedies. Buddhism works on the Four Noble Truths, the first two of which are that "there is suffering in the world," and that "all suffering is caused by desire." Nirvana, the Buddhist word for enlightenment, means extinguishing the flames of desire. Buddha's answer to the pain of wanting is to let go of the future and focus on things that are right here, right now.

Candide certainly has many desires, among which his desire for regaining Cunégonde is the most detrimental to him. Candide's misery is a testament to the truth of Buddha's teachings about suffering and desire. Although El Dorado might be boring and lack the ingredients for improvement (since there is no evil), we can conclude that there is no suffering because desire does not exist there. Another important scene regarding desire is when Candide and Martin visit Lord Pococurante, a Venetian nobleman. Pococurante is rich and has many works of great poets, writers, and artists, but he does not like the paintings and books that he has. He says, "Fools admire everything in a well-known author. I read only for my own pleasure." Candide thinks that Pococurante is the happiest of all men because there is "pleasure in having no pleasure."

Wanting is something hard to handle and difficult to understand. Many people go shopping not because of their desire for a particular thing, but their desire for the relief that comes from having acquired the item and thus no longer having to want. So is extinguishing all desire within us the simple solution to our world's woes? Probably not, since this world is the most complex of all possible worlds, but it is certainly important to know how to control our desires to be content.

Hamleton (A Hamlet Playlist Inspired by Lin Manuel Miranda)

The themes of Hamlet are universal, and that’s why Shakespeare and his works have endured.  As I was reading the final lines of Hamlet a couple weeks ago, I was reminded of a song from the musical Hamilton.  As a testament to the enduring themes of Shakespeare’s works, I decided to compile some lyrics from songs that have the same themes expressed in Hamlet.  (And I admit I looked up "songs with [X] theme" to find some of these.)

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story by Lin Manuel Miranda
A song about legacy and how’s it’s viewed from the eyes of history, which I think relates to Hamlet’s begging Horatio to carry on and tell everyone what has happened
    But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?
    Who keeps your flame?
    Who tells your story?

Who Tells Your Story by The Roots
Same theme of legacy and perception, but I wanted to share these lyrics too:
Who lives
And who dies
Who holds on to all our lives
Time and time and time again
Will they tell your story in the end
(Who lives who dies who tells your story?)

Positively 4th Street by Bob Dylan
Betrayal, which relates to the relationship between Claudius and Hamlet Sr.
You've got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend
When I was down you just stood there grinnin'
You've got a lotta nerve to say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on the side that's winnin’

False Pretense by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Also a theme of betrayal.  The last two lines remind me of how all the traps in Hamlet end up backfiring:
So play the game until you run out
And play the game into my hand

Smiling Faces Sometimes by The Undisputed Truth
Theme of betrayal and playacting, both of which surface many times in Hamlet.  The “playacting” is putting on a smile, instead of the airs of grief as in Hamlet.
Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes
They don't tell the truth

I'm a-tellin' you beware of the pat on the back
It just might hold you back
Jealousy, (jealousy) misery (misery) envy (envy)
I tell you you can't see behind
Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes
Hey, they don't tell the truth

My Immortal by Evanescence
I think the overall message of pain would resonate with Hamlet; a couple lyrics that I thought relate to the play:
I'm so tired of being here
Suppressed by all my childish fears

These wounds won't seem to heal, this pain is just too real
There's just too much that time cannot erase

Viva la Vida by Coldplay
This song expresses a turn of fortunes, which I thought related to the Hamlet speeches about death being the great equalizer and putting everyone on the same level.
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

(Can)Did(e) He Really Just Do That?

I just wanted to share my opinion on Candide himself.  I do not like that guy.  I just don’t think he’s a good person; my problem isn’t even his passivity and that he won’t question Pangloss (which I guess he ends up doing, although he really goes back and forth on optimism), it’s that he’s pretty self-centered and seems to only honestly care about himself while also claiming that he's the "best man" out there.  Even though some of his actions can be considered good taken at face value, Candide is truly motivated by selfishness.

For example, when Jacques gets tossed overboard.  Candide just sits there and nods along to Pangloss’ blabbering.  Okay, what?!?  You’re really going to do that to the guy who just saved you?!?  Maybe Candide’s passivity has been ingrained into him, but I don’t think that makes up for his inaction.  I think we can all agree to cross the line when Candide’s passivity starts wandering into actually allowing other people to be hurt.  It’s simply immoral, and it doesn’t matter that Pangloss has talked his ear off about optimism; at some point Candide needs to take responsibility for his own actions.

Then, there’s that time Candide comes across the slave.  “And he shed bitter tears as he looked at this [slave], and he was still weeping as he entered Surinam.”  Wow, Candide, here’s a pat on the back for crying over this poor guy who’s been tortured and enslaved!  Good job.  See, this kind of thing makes me angry, because Candide is over here pretending to be a good man, but he’s really not.  He’s just a guy who has some capacity for human emotion but doesn’t actually stick up for what’s right.  Why does he just walk away from the slave, when he himself has gotten so much help from other people?  Oh wait, I guess we already knew Jacques’ kindness didn’t really  have that much of an impact on him, because HE LET JACQUES DIE.  If Candide really cared, he would have used his newly acquired wealth to actually affect some change in the world, starting with buying this slave’s freedom and getting him some serious medical treatment.

Finally, there’s his treatment of Cunegonde.  Candide doesn’t really care about this woman.  He sees her as an object for him to admire.  When he sees that she has lost her former beauty, “The tender lover Candide, seeing his lovely Cunegonde […] then advanced only out of politeness” (Voltaire 243).  And then he sends Cunegonde’s brother back to the Levantine captain who was whipping him!  Candide is just so disgusting and spineless.  He doesn’t care about right or wrong, and he’s shallow.  If he had the chance to become one of those creepy monks, he would probably do it!  The fact that he claims to be such a great guy makes me roll my eyes.

I guess my opinion of Candide is kind of harsh given that he’s never really had the opportunity to challenge Pangloss’ teachings, but I still thinks he acts in a way that just isn’t moral, even when he does start to question Pangloss.  I find Candide very frustrating because he doesn’t seem to care about what’s right or wrong, he just wants to follow along and get what he wants.  That makes it very hard to have compassion for him, or to admire him as a protagonist.

Candide: The 18th Century Forrest Gump

Ms. King brought up a really interesting comparison a few days ago in class between the 1994 film Forrest Gump and Voltaire's Candide. Both works follow the lives, from birth to middle/old age, of two main characters who somehow witness the major events of their time periods. Forrest Gump encounters key people and occurrences of the 19th century such as Elvis Presley, Vietnam War, the hippie movement, JFK, the Watergate scandal, the birth of Apple, the AIDS crisis, and so much more. Likewise, Candide is involved with notable events from the 18th century such as the Lisbon Earthquake, the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the Jesuit Wars, colonialism, and slavery. I think it's interesting how both works are able to display important themes and messages while simultaneously providing a summary of the events that shaped history. Another similarity is that, despite the constant trials Forrest and Candide face, they never fail to keep an optimistic outlook on life. Furthermore, both Forrest and Candide are motivated to keep moving forward and not give in to their misfortunes for a love interest. Forrest is constantly trying to seek the love and approval of his childhood best friend, Jenny; Candide is constantly trying to find and marry his childhood best friend, Cunegonde. Image result for forrest gump